I was almost asleep at the time, in the kind of dream state that comes from the sound of a 40 hp motor plowing over calm seas while you're snuggled onto duffle bags and beneath the sailcloth of a banana boat. Motors, they’re the lullaby of modern life. The boat bounced, and suddenly spun around above the surface of the water, as it was knocked sideways, we saw, by a school of dolphins. They were dashing toward the shore and we were a toy, motor sputtering and all of us bolt upright and gripping the sides now. Yangsa Dui grins, never one to miss a signs of clan totems monitoring his personal welfare, and says, "Dolphins. They saw me coming." We had spent the weekend in Sor, close to Saidor on the Raikos (Rai Coast). To the east of Madang town the coastline runs for roughly 140 kilometres in such serene beauty it’s no wonder Miklouho Maclay, a Russian explorer, jumped ship in 1871 to become the first European to make residence on the north coast of New Guinea.
Perfect white beaches, bowing palms, long stretches of lowland rainforest banking the shore, all make the coastline reminiscent of every postcard of a South Pacific halcyon you’ve ever seen. Rolling to the shore is a sea of aquamarine clarity, faintly mottled by light green stretches of underwater reef and subsurface bolts of phosphorescence, of the kind ancient Pacific mariners are said to have used to detect landfall. The reflective surface blurs into a powder blue sky, which is unmarked, but for one narrow belt of gray-lavender stratocumulus clouds that runs around the horizon. There are faint whitecaps and frigate birds twinkling in mirage-like ways in the distance.
I met Dui when the National Theatre actor/director John Doa and I were researching a play on the life of Yali Singina, Madang’s culture hero. Yali was the most compelling of the country’s proto-Independence leaders for his fusion of secular and church directives from the colonial era into a movement, a kind of Scientology of colonial times. For the people of Rai Coast, then all the north coast and much of New Guinea, Yali’s Dubsau Movement was a third way, an indigenous alternative to the punitive forms of modernity both the churches and the colonial Administration were dispensing. It was a reaction to the popular malaise of the moment, right after World War II, when a lot of Papua New Guineans, like colonials elsewhere in the world, felt they had been promised a kind of development that had never arrived, and that after seeing the material largesse, indeed waste, of so many allied troops, they had become convinced that no foreign body was telling them the truth. Yali had been patronized by Lutheran, then Catholic, and colonial administrators; he’d fought in the War; and as he applied some of the sanitation and civic planning ideas he’d absorbed from his experiences, people increasingly saw him as a new PNG leader, a truly indigenous modern man.
Yali died at the eve of Independence after being demonized by the Australian administration and both churches, but the importance of his breakaway ideas and their appeal to a wide constituency made him legend, and the subject of an important ethnography of the movement by Peter Lawrence called Road Belong Cargo 1964, (Manchester Univ Press) --which propelled his name beyond borders. Indeed, so widely known is Yali’s name that Jared Diamond’s book Guns Germs and Steel opens with a story about the author meeting this famous leader on the beaches of Madang, when Yali apparently asked Diamond the elemental question that had driven his movement and inspired Diamond’s book: Why do white people have so much stuff? Unfortunately for Diamond, who has been embroiled in a series of court cases since, the real Yali Singina was not in Madang at the time, where there are no beaches, and his son who would come to political eminence himself, James Yali, was barely in secondary school at the time. (Perhaps the ultimate demonstration of how easy it has been for white people to use Papua New Guineans for their own ends, is the fact that Diamond seems to feel he can make up a story like this and expect no one to fact check the faraway Papua New Guinea.)
John and I were in Amele, taking stories from the old Lo Bosses and other Yali followers, when one after another, we were referred to Dui, as principal keeper of the Yali flame. And he was. A loyalist and self-appointed historian just bursting with the need for an audience. Dui took over our research and elected himself our mentor, our escort through the world of Yali Singina. Even now as I think of him my throat constricts and my earns burn, because it’s been years since his death and we still miss him all the time.
He used to come sit on my verandah in town for hours, just smoking and pre-masticating buai, as he was so toothless, and drinking tea as he balled up soft bread, clearly contented that he could lord over a house in town where other Yali followers could meet him like a visiting dignitary. And he was a doorman security guard, always eager to tell people to go away, leave the white Missus alone, stop hanging about where you don’t belong. An invaluable service for someone like myself, who often found street kids taking a shower in the bathroom. He was our surrogate father. The only person who could really boss me around, because he gave so much in return.
Yali was born in the Ngaing bush area of Sor, a member of the Walaliang Patriclan and Tabinung (of Jatko, the red and black parrot) Matriclan about 1912. Initiated in the Kabu ceremony but not trained for sorcery or garden rituals, he left home early and did not much return until 1945. During the 1920s Lutherans were missionizing on coast, and the bush people of Amun, Sorrand Paramus were brought within administrative organization, placed under headmen. it was only after WWI that any Ngaing had been recruited to work plantations, as German administration was leaving. Ngaing resisted both Lutheran and Samoan Congregationalists working in the area, because they refused to give up Kabu ceremony and dance--which was considered essential for full Lutheran conversion. 1928 Yali went to Wau. Returned to Sorrin 1931 and became Tultul and befriended patrol officers in area. Accompanied Patrol Officer Nurton on two occasions: once when he dispersed a religious gathering at Sibong, in 1932, and again, in 1936, when Nurton led the ill-fated expedition to Aiyawang village. In 1933 Gumbi station was visited by Roman Catholics.
The Garia and Ngaing were quick to see how rivalry between churches could work to their advantage. Yali invited the priest to Sorras long as the Catholics would allow them to retain their Kabu ceremony. Father A. Aufinger made extensive ethnographic studies of them too. Peter Lawrence called Yali Singina’s development efforts his ‘Raikos Rehabilitation Scheme’, and it began after his return home to Sorrin 1945, following the Japanese occupation and Allied liberation, and just before the installment of a Catholic priest, and months prior to the return of the Lutheran mission presence that had been there before the war. Indeed, Father Golly's entrance was huge in bringing the area to Catholicism. But at the same time, a number of Yali imitators and carpetbaggers built momentum that became counterproductive to their real aims of cooperation and attracting administrative interest and development to the area.
They revived cult ceremonies and beliefs that gave the most secular of activities a sacred edge and once again alienated these enormous populist movements from both government and church, giving the charismatic leader a reputation he hadn’t intended and contributing to his eventual imprisonment for five years. His personal paganism and Kabu ritual was interpreted by many as endorsement of more syncretic and suspect practices like séances, wife swapping, the revival of cross-cousin promiscuity, etc. Pales, Kasan, Gurek, Kaum, Uririba, Tagarab, Tarosi, Polelesi --to name a few, locally--claimed to be inspired by and variously accredited by Yali in their more bizarre cult rituals, while Yali remained variously Delphic and/or adamant in his denial of their claims, increasingly aware of the momentum building and the dangers of losing such a widening sphere of followers.
He had staked everything on the 'Brisbane promises' of the Australian admin and was working to prepare Raikos people for independence and modernity. This also meant retaining amicable relations with both the catholic mission in Gumbi and the Lutheran pastor at Biliau. He had assumed he would be made District Officer for Raikos. The people of Galek, coastal trade partners of Sor, voted him a strip of land at Sangpat, between their own village and Suit, for a station to be built. By 1948 this was complete, laid out along lines of administration buildings in Saidor. In 1947 he went to POM, then Lae, and suffered the disillusionment of other postwar colonial peoples: the awareness that their 'reward' for fighting alongside their masters during the War was not to be immediate or even substantive. He went home to institute the Yali Laws covering: "organization of work in the villages; house-building; marriage rules; sanitation rules; pig husbandry; road-work; water rights; reef rights; land rights; funeral ceremonies; polygyny; pregnancy; betrothal; proper conduct when away from home; the use of sorcery and love magic; penile incision; cargo cult prophesies; ritual honor to the spirits of the dead (Kabu); work on European plantations....playing laki; drinking alcohol; fighting and generally disturbing the peace." (Lawrence p 172-3).
Administration now encouraged him to retain custom and appeared indifferent to the churches. Most Papua New Guinea historians and anthropologists have softened their view of Yali and his followers since Independence, drawing a revised portrait of these people as proto-Independence leaders, the grassroots charismatics who built a nation before it was possible to even speak of nationalism. In Kiap, for example, (1981, Pacific Publications Ltd., p. 223) James Sinclair writes: Tarosi [teacher John Crowhurst's assistant in Sio, on the Huon Peninsula] was a fine-looking man of middle age, who had fought bravely for Australia during the war and had been decorated. A trained teacher, he spoke English with precise fluency and could read and write in the language. He had known Yali, the greatest of the PNG cargo cult leaders, during the war and had actively supported him and helped to shape his ideas when Yali began the pagan revival and cult activity on the neighbouring Raikos that led to his arrest and imprisonment in July, 1950.
Because of this involvement, Tarosi was regarded with suspicion by many, but I believe he was a true New Guinea patriot; an honest man trying with all his heart to help his people. Inevitably, he was later drawn to politics, but although he stood for the House of Assembly and was strongly supported by the communities along the coast, he was little known in the mountain villages of the electorate and failed to win a seat. The PNG of today is the poorer for his absence from the national scene. Dui died on Thursday night the 14th of August 2003, around 8 PM. He was struggling with his coughing and shallow breath that night and slowly fell away, his daughter Rachel says. Friday morning Rachel came to the house, eyes red and swollen, saying 'bik man dai pinis.' First she stood outside, on the road, and I called down to her after our Uncle Ray informed me of what she'd told him, and she came up, repeated this, and we hugged. Shock. I told her I was so shamed of barking at her last week, and she said, Samting nating, as it surely was, now that she had lost her dear father. How could it be? How could he die without telling me? How could he be aware of the possibility without insisting on me coming to see him. He'd been in and out of Yaggum hospital since late April, and was recovering well at this time, from what we'll never know, and they had finally sent him home. He was to recover on his own now. But after gaining some strength, he'd lost it again.
Barely a week after arriving home he was gone, just the day after James Yali had taken Sugum, his mother and Yali Singina’s widow, back to Sor. That was Dui, no doubt waiting for Sugum to leave before he could die. Later James tells me Dui had even told him to take him back to Warai, to die, to kill a pig, to settle a family argument, and die. That he knew he didn’t have long now. He knew. But I didn’t know--- and revolted at the thought even when I saw him skin and bones in Yaggum, when the doctor held his xray to the window light and showed me a white density, and when I asked what that might be, said ‘I have no idea.’ I was feigning the kind of denial that can sometimes be effective with Dui--saying he's just fine, demanding it in fact, there's no cancer in the xray, and that means nothing is wrong. I told him that if he thought this was sanguma, he was wrong, it was up to him to build his strength back and shake this sorcery. Making a scene, bringing all kinds of foodstuffs for him and Mun, his daughter, sitting there looking after him, knowing that this was the sort of public demonstration that would make the vain man happy, especially before the old man from Bilbil who was sick in the far end of the ward. Once a superstar, always a superstar. And I was there to show the doctor that we were looking over Dui---the doctor who said completely nonplussed that he didn’t actually know what this sickness was, as it wasn’t pneumonia or cancer, no, no, he said, not that. We'd brought him lentil soup, and insisted he eat it right there, which he did, god bless him. Lapped it up. I joked that I'll make him chicken soup, and he grumbled that I always forget he doesn’t eat chicken for goodness sake. It was only after the death that I got the information about the family dispute. It was between his two sets of kids, over land. When he'd gone back to place after we went to see Sugum last year, and had been there 3 months, he'd had this problem over the land, and it involved tending to his own father's grave, and the fact that his sons had not looked after it according to custom. And there was some talk of his wanting to be buried in his clan land, which was farther up the mountainside.
But that the very night before he came back to Madang someone must have put a spell on a betel nut and given it to him as he slept. That's what Rachel says. Then, when he got back, he just never got well, and finally went under with this dispute sorcery. He'd cleared his mind and 'confessed' all the troubles, but still this didn’t save him. Then he gave his tulip bilum to his favorite son, Kuku, and told him everything he needed to carry on, delegating the eldest son of his second line, which only complicated the family issue. Now they dug a hole in a place clear, somewhere between the main house in the Warai settlement of his first son, Yonki; and maybe this is the pig killed to make peace after all: that he gives his own life to become the reason for all the relatives to come to this place, the focal point for them, not some neutral ground that they will squabble over. I was so dumbfounded by all this. Unable to move into grief by all the activities that actually incited everyone else to grief. The wailing, the banging of heads, the hugging each other, the talking directly to the body. What triggers grief, this genuine outpouring of pain--because it's forced but not insincere--can be anything, for anyone: some would wail when they saw his face, or when they saw a relative, a cohort of Dui's crumple in anguish, or enter the house to see him, or when they put a sheet over him, put flowers on him, lifted the coffin to the ambulance, or after we'd dressed him in the morgue, or when the body was lowered so strenuously but also gently into the grave. I would feel my throat constrict, feel my eyes well up in a pavlovian sense, seeing the brothers and sisters crying, seeing old men crying, and yet not bring tears forth in the same way. The extended plaintive singing that the old women performed sitting cramped around the coffin in the Warai house, the beautiful but dolorous harmony of their high-pitched voices. Stinging pain. The smell of Brut. That first day, I had raced around to buy all the necessary things for sitting cry in Umuin, knowing there was no money there for these things. Bags of rice, flour, sugar, tea; big white laplap and a smaller red patch of cloth in case they wanted a cross (but I later learned this was taboo for the Yali people).
Plastic flowers by the string and the bunch. Raced out to Umuin to find Saubol and other plaua meri sitting inside the small house, not Dui's own, it must be Kuku's, where Dui lay quite peacefully, on a sheet and under another, pulled up to his upper teeth, as with death, his lower jaw had slackened and made the toothlessness we never really saw as disfiguring in life, look freakish. But his skin was ashen---actually ashen--and freckled, lacking the coppery tones, and yet otherwise his body was unperturbed, the most peaceful looking corpse, not swollen, not bruised from internal hemorrhages or anything.
Here was this man who I loved as a father, and who I believe loved me as a daughter, certainly looked over me as one, lying now in his last field of comfort, with all the women who had been around him his whole life, those who loved him and tended to his needs all his life. You wanted to embrace him, to open his deep set eyes and see that last affectionate glance, the sly and charming look he could give you, the knowing and sometimes secretive but confident in our love for him look. He was loved. I had also wasted time trying to get the Modilon hospital ambulance to pick him up for the morgue, after straightening a space and readying the morgue director, a Sepik relative of Chris. But even after waiting for the CEO twice, anguished but only short periods of time, to see him and ask him this special favor, I knew that they'd never bend these new rules to suit a white missus: no ambulance runs for the morgue anymore. I was still in the busy state where you cannot believe the finality of it: we were all working for Dui, all surrounding him still. Then, at Umuin, I took one of the brothers, Krek, and Mun, up to Yaggum to find the ambulance very happy to come and take him to Modilon, for a small fee; what a relief. What a sanctuary that place was. As we waited outside the clean and pleasant colonial-style offices, it was Krek who reminded me that this man had been the first Raikos Saidor Councilor for Ward 17, and that in his time he'd seen the establishment of three air fields and a major bridge in the region. That he was an accomplished and important man in anyone's eyes, not just ours, or the Yali movement's.
Funerals bring out the facts modesty sublimated, especially with our parents. Krek reminded the ambulance driver to bring a stretcher, while I brought Mun back in the Suzuki. They took Dui to the morgue and I followed, arriving only minutes later, when they had lain the body out in the back room's metal table, because there was already another body on the front room's table. The morgue director showed us how to wrap him, how to bind the body up for now in a couple of sheets, which he tied at the ankles, to carry the stiff but not immobile body out and into the walk-in fridge, thankfully working. Inside, Dui was laid on a middle shelf, comfortably it seemed. Surrounding him were bloated sheets, and the tiny doll-like sheets of small children that frightened me. I was shocked by the process, but also by the filth of the morgue, looking beyond the circle of male relatives winding the sheet around Dui to the corners of what looked like a disused fridge in the back room, where mounds of paper trash and plastic bottles and years of dust clotted the corridors leading to a dirty louver window in back, bringing in the only light. The central floor had been mopped, the counters were clear throughout, but this morgue was like so many bush houses that never see light in their corners, stuffed with residue and illness just waiting to pounce, only inches away from some semblance of sterility. I noticed the man in the front room was wearing a handsome white shirt, tie, black trousers and shoes, and that's when I realized we needed to get clothes for Dui. So I took Kuku, and another relative, with Chris, to the huge Kalibobo Klos shop the next day, a busy Saturday, where we had no problem finding the right elements for Dui, and where Kuku even got himself black trousers and a black shirt, the most appropriate thing. I wanted him to have long trousers, as I doubted he had anything but jeans. A strange sense of protocol, or a sense of what Dui might have taken for protocol. As I stood waiting to buy the shoes for Dui at a separate counter, an old man in a dashiki (of all things), with a little boy, was being ignored as young girls shoved their platform sandals ahead of him, and I had to tell the cashier this man was here first. He pushed a pair of small blue corduroy slippers and sensible rubber soled black men’s shoes forward. The cashier lifted the latter and announced that these would be K17, which, after all the wait, made the old man think again, and he pushed them back--he'd buy the kid's shoes only. But I said, These are for you? And he nodded. So I bought them, and he shook my hand. I had been thinking how awful it was that old men have no good shoes, trousers, shirts, belts or ties until they die and the family all contributes these, finally. To flatter themselves. Later that day I printed out the paper in English that had Dui's image, scanned in black and white from a photo whose negative I searched everywhere for, but couldn’t find (Kuku said, This was Dui's doing, he hid the negative). It had the brief announcement of his death: Yangsai Dui passed away on the evening of 14 August 2003. He leaves behind his children Yondi, Mun, Don, Kasining, Tawila, Sesei, from his first wife, Yanu Pain; and Kuku, Kreck, Yangsai, Rachel, Nancy, Ramsey and Kuku, from second wife, Saubul Areg; as well as his brother, Ngangang Yangsai, and wife Saubul Areg, who resides with children in Umuin. Hundreds in Rai Kos, Krangket Island and Amele now mourn their loss of this great man. He can never be replaced, nor will he ever be forgotten.
Dui was born in 1930 of Sanamai and Yangsai, of Potpoingtupusin clan, Warai village, of the Wamurr tribe on Rai Kos. His ancestor was Geek of Kipoko clan, who befriended Nikolai Miklouho-Maclay, and whose children included Wairibai (Dui's namesake), and Simasang, with descdendents now living in Karkar. Dui was educated on Krangket Island, then at Tusbab following the War. In the fifties, he joined Yali Singina's movement on the Rai Kos, as a lo boss, and campaigned with Yali for the rest of the latter's life, taking the young Plaua Meri, Saubul Areg, as his second wife. A tireless campaigner for traditional culture and National Independence, Dui was also entrusted with the responsibility of looking after Yali's beloved wife, Sugum, after the leader's passing. She cared for him like a younger brother. In 1964 he became the first elected Councilor of the Rai Kos Saidor Council's Ward 17. During his tenure, he saw the opening of the airfields in Teptep, Tapan and Long Island, and the construction of the Nangina River bridge in Saidor. He later befriended Peter Lawrence whose renowned study of the Yali Movement, Road Belong Cargo (1968), put Madang 'on the map' of anthropology and world event. Following Lawrence, the German anthropologist Elfriede Hermann also relied on Dui as an informant in her follow-up studies of the movement. Currently, anthropologist Nancy Sullivan is compiling a history of the surviving movement, and has been deeply indebted to Yangsai Dui for his intelligence and generosity during this process.
Those wishing to express condolences can reach Saubul Areg c/ Krek Yangsai at Box 761 Madang. Kurkur asked me to print a copy in Pidgin, too, which was sensible. They added the children and relatives' proper names, but otherwise had no corrections, happy only to have something like this to distribute. Never critical of me, to the end. God bless these people. Lots of organization regarding the boats to Raikos. They wanted to hire a big passenger vessel, but the price was too high. Then James volunteered two boats and two drums of fuel, which was really enough for three boats. I said Id help with the third, which then turned out to be K300. That was too high, so Kurkur advised me not to worry, to pay K150 and we'd have the Governor pay the other half. True to form, the boat drivers came back to me after we'd returned from Warai, after 4 boats actually went out, which I thought the Governor had paid for, and after the Governor had then taken off again for Moresby, to get some money. Then Tuesday we went to pick Dui up at the morgue, and bring him back for a sit cry overnight at Umuin. Everything was arranged for us to meet the Yaggum ambulance there at 4 PM, with the morgue director. Id been trying to get Dr Kalana to come give the shoot of Formalin to him, but his nurse rang back and said the fee would be K250 (!), so we let the morgue director do it. But Kalana had told me to buy at least 100 ml of formalin for a body to be left out two nights; the bottles came in 200 ml, and the morgue director shot him with all of it---afterwards everyone said nine shots; I never counted. But we also brought talcum powder and a big green tin of Brut deodorant, which Barnara suggested at Chemcare, explaining it has a strong smell, popular with relatives of the dead. brought his clothes and we dressed him. His body was brought out and placed on the front table before we arrived---Chris, Ray and myself. Mun was the other woman there, and she helped more in washing and dressing him; I didn’t feel right washing him. They put a hand towel over his genitals to do so, and his legs were so very thin, so wasted; his chest was fine, there was no sign of swelling or anything, really unusually. Now they'd taken a sheet off his face and you could see the gaping recession of his underjaw. They covered this with a swath of cotton, and plugged his nose as well, fresh again. His skin again so drained of the red tones, almost blue now. But not unreal, not revolting; very placid. I turned away as they put on his trousers. We had no underwear for him, but everyone was jocular about that: No ken wari! Em bai no inap wokabaut! Kuku managing everything with admirable calm.
Some confusion about tying the necktie, but Christian finally got it, and we made it look almost right, right enough. On one end of the table was a depression where a handful of filthy old jars lay, like trash. And on the counter were ten or more bottles of formalin, empties, like my own. At the foot of the table, in the corner, was another great heap of rubbish from so many people dressing and cleaning their loved ones. Shoelaces, cloths, dirty clothes, a handful of plastic wrappers from Chinese sheets, kjust like the one I'd brought to Umuin for Dui the first day. Clearly, everyone gets the new stuff at death. Then sprayed the entire box, talcum powdered his cold feet to get the slightly small socks on before the shoes---and I noticed how intact his skin felt, nothing loose on the bone, not like Tara's was so many years before, after she'd been in the morgue a couple of days. The coffin was still sticky with a red varnish when we opened it for Dui. They'd taken the shiny white flower-embossed fabric I'd just in time brought out to the village that afternoon, and stapled in all over the inside, although without any flourishing folds. No time for that. Then placed an old sheet like the light blue one I'd brought underneath, and my newer one on top, to cover him. He had his own pillow and a cheap smaller one with ruffles from my house, which I'd brought just to have something from us in there with him. They closed the lid and tapped the nails only. He was loaded into the ambulance and we went home, to go back for the evening later. At night we came back around 7. Everyone sitting around outside, lots of rice baskets and coconut baskets filled with garden food being made. In each house a cluster of mourners. The women all squeezed around the coffin in Kuku's house again, and spilling outside, more walking in from all over to pay their respects. Kuku wore the jacket he'd also picked up with us at the secondhand shop: slightly too small lightweight blazer which, in its tightness, worn without a shirt, looked more like a woman's jacket than a man's; perhaps it was. And shorts. Kurkur held the copy of Elfriede's email that she'd sent me that morning, in response to an open announcement on ASAONET, because Id misplaced their email address. He wanted me to read it in Pidgin. The governor hadn't arrived yet, and they were working on the boat arrangements--hoping to get most of the garden food baskets onto a cargo vessel that would leave that night, at 10 PM.
So people made speeches. Someone made a forceful one, an old man, about never having the likes of this man with us again. We handed out some of these photocopy papers, too, so people could see his face and read his life. And then I stood up and read the one in Pidgin, then translated Elfriede's email. The Governor came and also gave a speech that echoed some of what I'd said--especially about how Peter Lawrence's book was in every library of every university around the globe and how here in PNG we know less and revere less these people, for their efforts, than do outsiders. He then sat down across from Alice and myself (Nancy was kindly chatting to Alice throughout), and first mistook Alice as my daughter (kindly), and was kind and familiar, as charming as he could be. Alice was encouraged to come visit him at his office, which was nice. We confirmed that the following morning everyone would be ready for a six o’clock pick up by boat at the Krangket dock, and that they would come by and pick me up at Binnen Rd afterwards. Chris and Ray spent the night there, crying, and eating, while Alice and I left just before the Governor, when he'd cleared the drive, after filling his big car with yam baskets for the cargo ship. So at 5 AM I was awake by alarm and boiling water for tea. Some confusion, as Jim and Jean Thomas, from Lumi, were suddenly expected to arrive and stay for two days---having heard when they first rang from Wewak that we were completely submerged in this funeral, that the spare room was now occupied, but ringing again the day before to confirm their arrival and time, and getting finally an invitation to stay from me, too frazzled to say otherwise, explaining we had plenty of mattresses they could sleep on, unperturbed by hearing they couldnt be picked up at the airport. So Chris and Ray arrived, and I appointed Ray the guardian of the house and the married two, Chris having cleaned and readied his room for them, so kindly, and ready to set off with me for the waterside by 6 AM, with our rucksacks and umbrella and an ice block bottle, fully expecting to be picked up soon. So we waited, and actually saw at 7:10 some vehicle dropping Jean and Jim off at the house, saw them enter the house and a few minutes later come walk across to us at the waterside with Ray where they barely seemed to grasp the sadness of the moment and cheerily thanked us for the lodging. I explained there was beer, and Jim was happy; we explained a bit about town, and then Chris had the idea of having them drive us to the Krangket dock to see what was happening. So we piled in with Ray, who would steer them back home, and Jean driving at first--so tentatively, explaining how it'd been months since she'd driven--until I asked to take the wheel, and sped down to the dock area, where they were all still waiting for the boats to arrive. jean and Jim were happy about the flying foxes, and properly preoccupied. I helped one boat load cargo into my car for the governor, and then took Kuku around there to drop it off, after which I sped to the cash machine to get some money to pay for one of the boats, but it was down of course, then zoomed around to the dock just in time to get aboard with the casket. In the process, I had dropped my ATM card somewhere, and went dashing down to beneath the mango tree, where Id been standing before, not to find it. Only minutes later, talking to Saubol and explaining how I'd cancel it Friday anyway, that a young man (who was he?) said, 'Nancy, is this what you're looking for?' and opened his cupped palms to show my card. We all jumped aboard the first boat with the casket: Mun, Tawila, Saubol and myself, with three elderly men, including Dui brother Ngangang, on the back bench. us women surrounded the coffin on the ribs of the boat. We waved everyone goodbye, myself not fully aware of the friction created at the shore between the two families over who would sit in the first boat, who (Kasining and Yondi, for example) would be too ashamed of their role in the strife that killed their father to actually sit with the casket and possibly incite mean comments from others. It was already a strong sun, so I raised the umbrella, but closed it as we got moving; and we sped easily to Warai. A double motor and Alphonse, everyone's favorite skilled driver; no undue bouncing on the waves. I sat on the shore side and even slept part of the way. Others spoke to the casket under the drone of the engine, and faded without sleep, as per custom.
When we reached the shoreline that fronts Dui's ground, which everyone pointed out to me, there was a huge dead tree in the water and an old man emerging beside it from the water to the shore, to turn to his left without glancing over his shoulder at us, and follow the beach in the direction of Warai. At exactly the time the boat passed by. Everything about him---cap, shirt, shorts and even the bag over his left shoulder, the bony knees the distant profile, suggested Dui. At first I said this laughing, but then Tawila and Mun and even Saubol agreed---this was Dui, had to be Dui, a sign that he was with us on the journey now. And I believe it now. He was. We got to the water's edge and the women in the boat started wailing right away, to see their relatives waiting there. The casket was quickly lifted out and sent by men up the path to Yonki's house. We followed, crying, me feeling very much the awkward white missus in the procession. Stared at, not emoting enough. Strange tourist at a sad occasion. But it seems I was expected, and that I was also welcome, which touches me deeply. At the house, someone, a cousin, kicked off a small gate to the front room, to make room for the coffin to enter, and for the streams of people who would follow. It was thrown under the house. Saubol and others surrounded the coffin on the floor of the central room, open, right away, and wailed. I was knackered, and displaced, so I went to a side room after a bit to lie down, knowing all of this would last a full day and night at least. And I lay down on the mattress Yonki's kind wife later told me was Dui's, the one he slept on when he visited. But it was covered in red ants, which stung me awake after a short time and left throbbing swellings all over my right arm and neck. Another sign, I thought, of Dui pushing us along.
Before I'd gone in, there was a moment I'll never forget, when Don, one of the elder sons, arrived, wailing heavily, at the house opening, the doorway to the coffin's space, and leaned against to pillars to steady himself, and all the sisters and younger relatives said, This man, this man---steady him! Holim holim! No ken dai! No ken pundaun! The most tender affection, mixed with that distancing expression of 'this man' rather than 'our brother Don,' and only later explained that he was prone to fits when upset and they thought he'd lapse into one if he was shocked by the sight of the coffin. So all these women held him steady as he cried. Another time, later, an elderly man came up the steps to the verandah, and into the gate, sobbing in such an unaffected way that I responded with that fearful and instinctive teariness that happens when men cry loudly. But then inside the room, almost asleep, the most poignant noise was a bevy of women who'd just arrived from the village, and entered the space around the coffin with saubol with the most mellifluous but sad kind of wailing songs, voices in unison rising and falling together, taking directional cues that had no lyrics, maybe even no pattern, but with such a harmonious unity it was hard to believe it had not been scripted. I dared not even emerge while I sat up and listened, for fear it would break the music, put them off, or signal the end of a refrain. Like these women had always been mourning together; like the hermaphrodites who come dancing after a son's birth in India, professional celebrants, so practiced and exact in their wails. But I now believe they had no actual design to it, but took cues from each other, like a lek of birds waking in the morning. The late afternoon saw the Governor arrive in his land rover, back from trying to convince Sugum to attend, and filled with old Sorr people come to pay their respects. Does Nancy want to come back to Sorr and see Sugum he asked? I jumped aboard in back with all his offsiders, thinking naively that this could be only a couple of hours' journey and we'd be back in time for the all-night sit cry. There were some errands to be done and clearly James wanted to see his mother. I wasn’t even aware of how far the road went up to his camp, couldn’t remember.
It was 3 o’clock or so already. The drive was fun, bumpy, scenic, and when it started to drizzle James opened the front door and invited me inside, where I sat squinched to the door and afraid of the intimacy with him in the center. But we talked about Yali and things, and of course Dui. I felt shy somehow, and he was happy to be quiet as well. Then we got to his place and it was weird, as we sat n the house win and he relaxed for a bit while I checked out the pig and two muruks in a cage. Then he set off walking to Sorr, with his bodyguard, a young man, forget his name. James was marching, like he wanted to hike. It's not an easy walk, a good half hour, and my shoes were the big thongs, my trousers inappropriate, and I kept sliding and lagging behind, only to be kindly waited for by the young man, not James, who only now and then waited on the track until we approached and then lurched onward again. Finally at Sor, I walked behind James to the entrance of Sugum's house where we embraced, and she seemed fine, if saddened. We all sat outside for a while, and Sugum had a young girl fetch us food, we all had plates of yam and kaukau in soup. I ate very little, but James ate well, and as I sat with his mother, talking haltingly in her way, he sat with a couple of villagers talking work---business--with not a mention of Dui. It was surreal, but maybe he wanted to keep her mind off it. Eventually, when he'd felt I'd talked enough with her, and when I'd gotten two definitive refusals to come down to Warai, he declared it time to leave and we set off again, this time with a Coleman, to his camp down below. There, we sat, ate a bit of food again, and drank water. Waiting for the car, which had gone off on errands. Then James went to rest under a tree and I was left with the bodyguard on a metal chair in the middle of the clipped lawn, tired as anything.
Eventually I pulled over a bamboo mat and lay down on the ground to nap--it was also cold, and I needed to ball up. At some point the woman minder of Yali's house led me indoors to sleep on her bed inside, under the netting and a sheet, as we all knew then that we wouldn’t set off tonight, even though the car did arrive back. Next thing I knew I was being shaken awake at 6 AM by James and the woman, and trundled into the car with the driver only, to go back to Warai, where the Sorrpeople would be retrieved and brought home, and James would then board and set off for Madang town. The day before he'd suggested I ride with him as I’d never been on the road, and in the morning he mentioned that he'd come and pick me up at Warai, but he never did--the car just drove on without stopping. It had left after dropping me off and not retrieving the Sorrpeople, because Dui's body had yet to be buried. That last day was exhausting. The chickens fought--a cock fight--in the middle of the clearing, and everyone yelled and kicked them away. A sign of Dui, we all laughed. I walked up from the car to see several men in a studious heap around one man working something that looked like a calculator in his palms, but turned out to be a gameboy. More people started to arrive, including a church group of singers and a school group with their headmaster. More people were sitting in patches all over the grass outside the bamboo thatch shade built out from the house, where people sat in denser clumps. There were lines of men sitting out under big mango trees, along the extruded roots, and women all gathered in the house win. Chris and Sandra sat together, and walked together, as Herman had brought baby Nancy in from their village to be with us. The men had started digging the hole. It must have been delayed by a lot of discussion, because at one point an elderly man came to me to ask where I thought Dui might want to be buried, on his clan land, or next to his father, or here. I demurred, not knowing what to say. There was some disagreement over whether they should deny his explicit wish to be buried next to his father, halfway up the mountain, or instead in the more neutral clan land farther up the hill, which is, I was told, overgrown.
But I said it seemed fitting that Dui lie here in a clear place where everyone can gather together with him, not come separately and with difficulty. Kuku put on his long black trousers and the black shirt, and mainly sat apart from Yonki and the first line of kids. What a wide range of faces in Dui's kids. The daughters from the first wife are similar, except Sesei, who is the image of her father, with the overbite and long lanky frame. Yonki has a squarer face than Dui's, but the same mouth--its scary. Then there's Rachel and Yangsai (Steven) and Kuku who all look a lot like Suabol, but Nancy is truly a beautiful creature, slightly apart---just as Kas is the beautiful man of his first set of children. Saubol showed us a photo of herself and Dui just prior to marriage, when she was a plaua meri wearing only a purpur, very beautifully dyed, and when Dui was young and had dark hair and strong legs. Their faces were faint, and the black and white had faded terribly, in this small 2 inch square picture, but I was happy to see that Saubol kept it pressed in a book alongside the photo copy I gave her of Dui more recently. We were not yet married, she said, and we joked---just thinking about it! Before Kuku even--he was just an idea! At one point I wrote a note to Dui insisting he come back to us, he stay around Madang, telling him we loved and could never forget him, and Saubol opened the casket so I could put it in his right hand--which she easily lifted from his sides to hold the left hand at his waistline, croton leaves and letter and all. Then I sat and talked to him directly, asking the same thing--for him to stay around us in town, not to linger in Warai--because this is what Saubol had asked me to do expressly, saying she couldn’t feel at peace until I did do it, and do it in English as well as Pidgin. The coffin was moved from the house to the covered area. Church children started to sing their hymns, in high pitched nasal and singsong, about we are like flowers and such. The pastor in a bright yellow shirt stood and introduced the church and its program for the burial. He gave a liturgy and quoted from John I think, about the road to god being through Jesus only, it is the only road, and so forth---while I kept thinking: is this purposeful? Why is this allowed? None of the Yali people said anything, either. They sat there. It went on and on. Then Yonki wanted to read from the paper I'd passed out, or to have someone read from it, so I came forward and read it, making the slight correction he'd suggested. And I stressed the Yali work, hoping that others would add to the subject. Then the program continued with a few words from family members, but very few, and the appointed MC, a cousin, read from his written program of a small piece of paper that this was the place where James would be making a speech, but as he's not here, perhaps Nancy would like to give another speech. So I did. This time more explicitly about remembering the meaning of Dui's life and his work with Yali and the need for the young school kids to know about him as a culture hero, and such. That he's another link we have lost connecting the past and the future, after losing Yali himself--and I nodded at Marcus Yali in the crowd. I never even looked at the pastor or the church members, but I was aware that this was a somewhat insulting gesture. Still, I thought their sermonizing offensive. And afterwards, older people came up and said what I said was true, a real approving gesture. Marcus said they’d come from Sorrto listen, not speak, so I guessed there was the possibility of stirring something with the church. The casket was then opened for the last time, and sprayed again with Brut, covered with talc, and after crowds walked around him for a while, a color block sheet from a new packet was opened (and I noticed it was just like one from my house--was this a sheet Dui had himself picked out?). Saubol handed Dui another fresh purpir or fistful of croton flower, in true yali style. Then the coffin was nailed shut finally, which brought the tickle to my throat to see. And the fake flowers piled first upon the two white sheets that draped the coffin. Then the frangipani and hibiscus strings, but not the crosses, not the ones bought nor the ones made by kids that morning--as Suabol insisted these were taboo for Yali people. Ramsey wanted me to stand with Sesei and lead the procession of the coffin to the hole, a short walk, but one he wanted to photograph with his own instamatic.
Then we carried Dui to the grave site, which was itself covered by a small thatch roof now, and surrounded the open and matching mounded shapes, as the box was strenuously, cautiously, but also delicately lowered into the hole. As ever, as when the casket went into the house the first time, and as when it was lain on the grass outside, and when it was lifted to be walked to the grave, everyone suggested front back directions---no, this way, feet first!--etc, and though the process were being innovated at the moment, as if it had no historical conventions to it. Finally, they covered the coffin with limbum palings and the bamboo fronds that were decorating the interior walls of the hole, and people threw in flowers and crotons and then the loose frangipanis, and as Desei walked around the hole, she dropped the homemade crosses in, perhaps purposefully, perhaps just for good measure. It's the down time at funerals that counts. The mothering and cooking and sniffling and patting baby bottoms, that make a crowd a family, that draw people together in the experience. That redefine family. And the last night, as we ate yams and rice again, and all the women huddled together under extra laplaps to sleep in a heap in the haus win, and we joked about everything from the farts and constipation of eating yams--the as bai pas, the doa bai op sapos yu dring kulau--and that there's no need for extra fuel if we've had yams and are farting the way back to Madang. Like when I sat before the older Sorrmen, and by mistake sat on some fresh buai spittle, giving my light colored trousers a big red stain, and I joked that it wasn’t buai after all but mun sik--everyone loves the odd off color joke. The old ladies were hysterical laughing at the taboo of some of this. Like when I laughed about coming out of the haus pek to find all the women who'd followed me out there squatting bare assed in the grass---they squealed and one told me this was not something to be uttered out loud! That was the best time, the warmest and sweetest. I'd gone to the beach with Sandra, Chris and the baby for a swim, after which we'd dipped in the clear river water that flows into the sea so conveniently, and was still damp in my seat and bra area---and at one point, noticing this, Saubol scrounged through her bag to hand he a clean ratty pair of her own underpants, the kindest of all gestures, I thought. I touched me almost to tears then.
But the real tears came after all the funeral was over, after we'd been ferried back in the boats to Madang, thumping and back breaking all the while. When I went to the Custom Agents office to get an unnecessary bill, I stormed into the office in mild hysteria, crying that these were medical supplies and they should be ashamed for ripping me off to this extent, etc. A real scene, with tears that lasted more than an hour afterward and paid my fees and went home. After not being able to wail or sob for a whole week, here I was crying for Dui in the Provincial Customs Office.